You’ll be the envy of the office (or wherever you take lunch) if you can get this system down. Instead of winging it when it comes to lunch – popping out for a sandwich, trying to eat less at dinner so you’ll have some leftovers to take in – set aside a little time before the week starts to prepare the elements that will make your lunches for the week. If you’ve got everything to make your salad ready to go, just a few minutes is all you need to put them together into a fresh and tasty, different salad each day, saving you time and cash.
The key is in making sure you’ve got all your bases covered with these seven elements that make up the perfect salad:
If a salad is going to serve as a meal, it’s going to need more than greens to make up its bulk. Cooking a pot of quinoa, bulgur wheat, pearl barley or your grain of choice means you’ll have plenty to turn into a variety of salads throughout the week. Dividing the grains up into separate containers at the beginning of the week, so they’re ready to be turned into individual salads, will save time in the mornings. Try this recipe for quinoa, avocado and almond salad (below).
Proteins help to keep you feeling full, so are an essential element of any salad. If you have leftover meat from a roast, adding it to your salad is a great way to use it up. Tinned tuna and salmon and smoked fish like mackerel are also cheap and cheerful options, and full of healthy Omega-3 fats. These also require no cooking, saving on time.
Cheese is a useful source of protein for vegetarians – feta in particular is perfect for salads as its natural saltiness helps to season the meal. Vegan- and wallet-friendly lentils and chickpeas are ready to go right from the tin and add a satisfying bulk to salads – you can use these in place of grains if you like.
Vegetables add nutrition value and flavour to your salad. Try roasting a large tray of vegetables and flavour one half differently to the other, for some variety. A simple marinade of olive oil, salt and thyme bring out the natural flavours of the vegetables, while crushed coriander and cumin seeds with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar make a tasty coating for root vegetables.
Pickled vegetables are excellent for salads as a large batch will easily keep well for the week – try this recipe for quick pickled cucumber.
Often forgotten in a salad, a scattering of fresh slices of apple, strawberries, nectarine or pear can take your lunch to the next level. Not only does fruit add colour and flavour, it also contributes an element of sweetness to your salad, giving it balance. A good rule of thumb is to eat fruit in season, when it’s at its cheapest and most flavoursome.
A handful of rocket, fresh herbs or lamb’s lettuce is just what your salad needs for that burst of green. Fresh leaves make a salad feel complete. For extra nutritional value, go for dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.
While there are endless possibilities for dressings, a simple olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning will do for most salads, and it’s the easiest to make and keep. Combine one part lemon juice with three parts oil in a jar, add salt and pepper and give it a good shake. Drizzle over your salad and keep the rest for later.
7. A little something extra
You’d be just fine if you stopped preparing your salad now, but for that ‘cheffy’ feel that’s sometimes missing from homemade salads, try adding an element of crunch. Toasted nuts and roasted mixed seeds are both good sources of healthy fats and add a pleasing texture to salads (make a large batch and you can enjoy these as a topping for your morning oats too). These roasted, spiced chickpeas tick the protein box as well as making a tasty topping. For something naughtier (just a sprinkle won’t do any harm!), fry finely diced shallots or small bacon bits until crisp.
Now put them all together
With all your elements ready to go, it’s just a matter of combining the ingredients in different ways. Here are seven days of suggestions to get you started:
MONDAY: Lentils + feta + roasted broccoli + rocket + toasted pumpkin seeds (see image above)
TUESDAY: Quinoa + tinned salmon + pickled cucumber + fresh mint + toasted sesame seeds
WEDNESDAY: Couscous + feta + roasted root vegetables + pomegranate rubies + rocket + toasted flaked almonds
THURSDAY: Quinoa + feta + spinach + strawberries + bacon bits
FRIDAY: Bulgur wheat + tinned tuna + grated carrot + shredded lettuce + toasted sunflower seeds
SATURDAY: Quinoa + smoked mackerel + sliced radish + watercress + toasted sesame seeds
SUNDAY: Pearl barley + goat’s cheese + quartered radishes and frozen peas + gem lettuce and mint + toasted hazelnuts
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